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Author: Evgeny Belashchenko ( 06/29/2004
Q&A: No. 2 draft pick Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)

After all the hype of the two-horse race between a pair of Russians that surrounded the top overall pick at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the favorite won with the Capitals walking away with Alexander Ovechkin and the Penguins finished second with Evgeni Malkin.

While Pittsburgh selected the prospect widely considered to be only second best, they may have picked a cornerstone around whom they can build a strong franchise in the future. Malkin is a well-sized and immensely talented center with a great hockey sense and soft hands. He was Russia's Super League 2004 rookie of the year and is almost a full year younger than Ovechkin. correspondent Evgeny Belashchenko caught up with Malkin after he became a Penguin and asked him a few questions in his native tongue. When do you think you will be ready for the NHL?

Evgeni Malkin: I don't think I am yet ready to play in the NHL. I need to pick up some strength and some muscle mass and maybe a year from now I will hopefully be ready to step in. Is there any chance that you will be in Pittsburgh next year?

EM: There is always a chance and a hope. I am just expressing my opinion. Are you going to attend the training camp?

EM: I believe so. What have the Penguins told you, general manager Craig Patrick in particular, or Eddie Olczyk, the head coach?

EM: You mean right now on the podium? I don't know much English, so I think they just congratulated me and welcomed me to the team. What kind of things did they talk to you about during the meetings?

EM: They asked me many questions and we had a very pleasant conversation. The wanted to know about my family and how my life is in Russia. The wanted to know about me as a person and also talked a lot about their team. Evgeni, compare yourself to Ovechkin, if you can. What makes you different, what makes you similar, what type of players are you?
EM: First of all we are different in a sense that I am a center and he is a winger, so he scores more and I naturally do a little bit more of passing. We are similar in that we are both very determined to win, and obviously in that we are both Russian and I am proud that we are the first two picks. Is there anyone you model your game after?

EM: I don't think that I have any idols or icons that I model myself after. I try one of a kind. But after watching NHL games, I'd like to say that I like the games of Peter Foresburg, Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Sakic. When does the crash course in English start?

EM: I am starting with a personal tutor right now, and I think in a year from now I will be fine. Do you know anything about the other Russian NHL players that the Penguins have like Aleksey Morozov and Konstantin Koltsov?

EM: I heard a lot about them and I think they are great players and I am just hoping to meet them personally. Without the transfer agreement in place, are you worried about when you will be able to get to the NHL?

EM: My current contract with Magnitogorsk has a specific clause that states that I can go to the NHL any time I want. There probably is a transfer fee, but I am free to leave. What do you think is the reason behind the recent resurgence of the Russian players with guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Datsyuk? Why do you think they have become so dominant so quickly?

EM: I don't know, it's a strange question. I think the Russian guys have always been very good in hockey. We are just continuing with the tradition. I don't know, maybe we are training them harder now. It is a very difficult question to answer. Do you think your style of play is physical enough to play in North America?

EM: I don't think I am there yet. Do you think your style of play will translate well to the NHL?

EM: Yes, I think so. The NHL has a lot of very big players, and I want to be able to fight them as equal when I come into the NHL. What is the level of play in the league where you play? Is it much older players?

EM: It's a very high level. It is considered the second best league in the world after the NHL. There are wonderful players there and some players are very famous and I think the best Super League players could compete against the NHL players. Your parents are both smaller than you. Where does your size come from in the family?

EM: I am not an expert, but I think it's probably from my mother's parents, because they were both very tall. Are you worried at all with the NHL's labor situation and the possibility of a work stoppage that there will be trouble signing a contract and what might happen if you doen't sign a contract before Sept. 15?

EM: We've talked with the Penguins and I have a very good agent and I am very comfortable that I will have a contract before Sept 15. Do you have any expectations about playing with Mario Lemiux or at least getting ice time with him?

EM: I would be very happy to play with him, but I don't think it's going to happen because I am not expecting to be in the NHL this year.

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